A senior state attorney at the Ministry Of Health, Samantha Mwesigye has broken the silence about how she was sexually harassed at the Ministry Of Health for over a decade.
For starters, sexual harassment refers to the bullying, intimidation or coercion of a sexual nature or any undesired promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours and this is illegal, at least according to the employment rights.
Speaking on the Morning Breeze on Thursday, 9th May 2019, Samantha Mwesigye revealed how she put up with this kind of treatment from her student days until quite recently.
She said this started while at Law Development Centre (LDC) and as a requirement for them to be an advocate, she was required to do clerkship with the Ministry of Health in 2005. All seemed on track until she met her supervisor who would later torment her psychologically for the rest of the clerkship period.
” This gentleman was a commissioner by then and he was my immediate supervisor and while doing clerkship, he used to make remarks, invite me for lunch and in all this I said ‘no, you’re my supervisor and I can’t come out for lunch with you.” – Samantha, in a faint voice said in part.
She said that what started as simple remarks, graduated to snide remarks about her and her body and how she is beautiful. Samantha says that while this conduct made her uncomfortable, she was powerless to stop for fear of jeopardising her clerkship. She had to bite her tongue and let him say whatever he wanted in order not to affect her grades.
Samantha added that as she was about to complete her clerkship at the end of the three months, her supervisor again asked her out to celebrate the completion, which she refused as well.
As fate would have it, Samantha would in February, 2007 get a job, this time as a full-time employee at the Ministry of Health as a State Attorney, a position she held until she was promoted to become a Senior State Attorney. She says for all this time, her tormentor (read; commissioner) would make similar remarks about her and in 2009, he sat her down in his office and told her he was interested in her and that she was mature enough to see that instead of pretending.
” I told him you know sir, I know that I am mature and since you’re mature yourself, by my silence, I expected you to realise that I wasn’t interested in you.” Samantha narrated her ordeal.
She went on to reveal how her refusal to have a relationship with the commissioner was held against her when she needed to pay for medical attention.
”I had a dental issue early last year and in the Ministry of health, we have an informal medical scheme where you go to your director and he see’s if there is a budget. So I went to him and there was a budget line. He told me to make a formal request for this which I did and my medical bill was UGX 2.7 million. In about two days, I went to get the money and he told me that this was very little money and that I know what he wants from me.”
Although she is an expert in public procurement procedures and has sat on several committees, she has gradually been removed from those committees. Previously having sat on at least 16 committees, she claimed that the commissioner has seen to it that she is removed or denied chance to appear on anymore. She is left with two.
” He’s been victimising me, there is also a time he offered me money after the oil case. He offered me half of the reward where I had to sleep with him but not even money could make me succumb to his demands.”
The tormented Samantha often confided her troubles in her closest relatives who work in the public service.
Finally in 2018 she wrote an email to the commissioner chronicling their troubled relationship. His response to her email? “Noted.”
On whether the Ministry lacks channels to deal with situations like this, Samantha said that the Ministry indeed has the channels like the disciplinary committee but they have hardly helped.
After confiding in two workmates about her plight, she received an email from her boss warning her that, ”He told me how he had always cautioned me about the way I dress and that am a very difficult person. At this time I realised my friend had told him. He called a department meeting which included my colleagues and support stuff to intimidate and ridicule me. He said that he called for the meeting on purpose of preventing me from blackmailing him.”
It was this meeting that prompted Samantha to give up trying to resolve their differences in the ministry and instead sought the help of the Solicitor General and the Deputy Attorney General. She also secured an appointment with the Prime Minister of Uganda Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to state her case.
Samantha is however not alone; over 300 secretaries from both public and private sectors, drawn from all regions across the country during a training on secretaries on skills development in Kampala last year reported to the Minister of Public Service, Muruli Mukasa that their bosses make advances and others force them into sex against their will.
In accordance with the Penal Code, any person who intends to insult the modesty of any woman or girl, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman or girl, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman or girl, commits a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.
Employment (Sexual Harassment) Regulations 2012 prescribes that those who contravene the sexual harassment related provisions commit an offence and are liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding six currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.
The ministries of Health, Justice and Prime Minister’s office are yet to respond to our queries on whether they are aware of Samantha’s allegations.